OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency as Hurricane Hilary strengthens rapidly and makes landfall in California, potentially causing significant impacts in the coming days. Hurricane Hilary is currently forecast to bring moderate to heavy showers, thunderstorms and possibly stronger winds to Southern California beginning Saturday night. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta reminds businesses that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“As California braces for possible power outages and flash floods from Hurricane Hilary, my office stands with our sister agencies committed to protecting the safety of all Californians,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Part of that commitment includes ensuring consumers in need of essential supplies do not fall victim to price gouging and unscrupulous business practices. We are monitoring the market and will not hesitate to take action against businesses attempting to skirt the law. If you believe you have been a victim of price gouging, I urge you to report it to your local authorities or to my office at oag.ca.gov/report.”
California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. For any item a seller only began selling after an emergency declaration, the law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds the seller's cost of the item by more than 50%. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, and gasoline. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, certain transportation services, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations, and rental housing. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business.
Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.
For additional information on price gouging, please see oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters.
For more timely information on Hurricane Hilary and resources to stay safe, visit caloes.ca.gov.